‘I didn’t know what was acceptable’ – Girl abused at 13 says young people ‘normalised’ online predatory behaviour

A lack of knowledge about what constitutes online child sexual abuse led to Gen Z adults normalising their experiences, according to an abuse victim.

Chloe, 21 from Cardiff, who has requested her name to be changed, told CJS News that when she was in school, there wasn’t enough education on what was acceptable and what was not on the internet.

She said sites like Omegle enabled men to expose themselves to children anonymously, but that at the time, she just thought it was normal for that to happen: “We didn’t realise that it was an issue, that old men were exposing themselves on the internet to kids.”

She added that it was through sites like this that she first saw an indecent image at the age of 13 which left her “shocked and confused”.

She continued by saying that it became normalised amongst older Gen Zs: “I feel like when you say it to someone our age, you just go: “Oh my gosh, same,” and you can relate to it, and we just all have the same experience but that’s actually not normal.”

She believes if there had been more awareness around online child sex abuse and grooming, then she wouldn’t have accepted this behaviour. She said: “I think if we were told about safety precautions or about having private accounts, not doing things in public, and making sure you know who you’re accepting to follow you, then we’d have been less exposed to other people.”

This comes as figures show there has been an 82% increase in reports of child grooming in the last five years.

In a Freedom of Information request, the NSPCC found that from 2016/17 to 2022/23, there had been almost 34,000 reports of online grooming against children with 6,350 occurring last year.

The charity also found that one in four online grooming cases were against primary school children.

ChildNet, a charity focusing on safe internet practices for children, has created Safer Internet Day. This day aims to teach children how to stay safe online, and provides resources for parents to help their children stay safe on the internet.

ChildNet’s CEO, Will Gardner said Safer Internet Day has increased the number of children coming forward with online safety concerns. Of all the schools involved in the day, 46% had children reporting concerns to them.

When asked about the NSPCC’s data on child grooming, he said that whilst it’s an “extraordinary” number, it may mean that increasing awareness about the issue, through events such as Safer Internet Day, has led to children understanding that what has happened to them is wrong.

Other victims of online child sex crimes have posted their stories online to help encourage the conversation about this abuse. They have taken to the website Everyone’s Invited to share testimonials anonymously.

One said: “When I was 13 years old, I had my first love. He used me for my body and manipulatively forced me into sending explicit pictures and videos… I was traumatised, my innocence [had been] taken away at such a young age.”

Another posted: “She was bribing me and asking me to send inappropriate things e.g touching myself, being nude over the phone. She also constantly asked for nudes and blackmailed me when I said no.” 

Omegle, the website mentioned by Chloe shut down in 2023 following more than 50 mentions in pedophilia cases. The website’s founder, Leif Brooks, told the BBC at the time, “”There can be no honest accounting of Omegle without acknowledging that some people misused it, including to commit unspeakably heinous crimes.”